[Editor’s Note: Jay actually wrote so much blog this week that he broke the database, so those of you who want to read the rest of the week will need to go back to Wednesday’s update.]
Blog Elemental – The Roads Not Traveled
August 6, 2004
I honestly don’t know if it’s a product of the cog deck idea or whether it would have happened with the other precons, but what I have loved about this experiment is how many readers have been inspired to create their own custom deck along with me. If you read the Forums, you’ll see all manner of crazy ideas that people have tried out and loved. What’s even better is that these ideas don’t seem to be competing with one another, just different. Folks seem to realize that cog decks can come in many, many different flavors.
Today, with the end of the experiment right around the corner, I thought I would outline a few of the more interesting ideas I’ve received either in the Forums, via e-mail, or online. This won’t be an exhaustive list, obviously, and I’m not going to pursue any of these directions in my deck. Hopefully, though, walking through them will inspire you in your own mad tinkering.
It seems to me that all cog decks have a few cards in common: Trinket Mage, Auriok Salvagers, Aether Spellbomb, and Engineered Explosives. After that, there’s a lot of variation. Such as…
Probably the most requested change early on in the deck’s evolution was to include Black. Vault of Whispers is an artifact land and a cog, while a recycled Necrogen Spellbomb can permanently deny draws to an opponent. Everyone knows the power of Disciple of the Vault, which just gets silly in a cog deck. Black also offers two terrific finishers: Moriok Rigger and Cranial Plating. I think in this version of the deck, you either abandon the Red for Black or only pick a few of the tricks listed above and go for four- or five-color build. You could possibly even make Black as strong a base as Blue is in my version, encouraging a W/B/u configuration. The problem you face is trying to keep the focus on cogs and not allowing the deck to drift into an Affinity archetype.
Grinding Station seems to be a popular suggestion as an alternative win condition in my deck, since you can conceivably get a lot of activations out of it in one turn. Myr Servitor is a terrific compliment to Grinding Station as well. A similar suggestion is, noting how great the storm mechanic is with cogs, to include Brain Freeze. It occurs to me that you could combine both of these ideas and have milling an opponent’s library as a primary win condition rather than a secondary one. After all, the deck is mostly utility-weenies anyway, so there’s some logic to tossing out the idea of trying to deal damage. Leonin Abunas make a nice midgame creature and hefty defense for a deck like this.
Battered Golem was a very fun suggestion, acting as some additional beats that can also usually untap to block once it’s done with combat. With the Golem in the deck, Viridian Longbow becomes a key cog, because your creature can go Rambo-style better even than Goblin Sharpshooter. Paradise Mantle has a similar effect, letting you recycle a lot more cogs each turn once it’s on a Golem. Probably you want more tutors than just Trinket Mage, such as Fabricate or Reshape, to fetch your key creature and its equipment. Maybe Silent Arbiter has a place to shore up the defense. All I know is that the people who took their decks in this direction swear by the Golem-Longbow combo.
Some people have also reported great success with Dead-Iron Sledge. These people usually use four Myr Servitor in their deck, and usually an Arcbound Worker or two. In fact, the more creatures you include in the deck, the more the modular mechanic gets enticing. Arcbound Crusher becomes the deck’s finisher hands down (although Rust Elemental is also tempting), and cards like Ornithopter and Clockwork Beetle start sneaking their way back into the decklist. A deck like this is really creature-heavy, but the hope is that a recurring Aether Spellbomb can either clear blockers or the sheer power of reusable weenies a la Auriok Salvagers and Salvaging Station can overwhelm an opponent. Again, though: To keep the deck a cog deck you must resist the slide towards Ravager Affinity.
March of the Cogs
Probably the second most-suggested idea behind adding Black to the deck is to add March of the Machines. To do this you have to drop most, if not all, of the artifact land and instead rely on Chromatic Sphere and/or Wayfarer’s Bauble and/or Darksteel Ingot to stabilize your mana. What you gain (aside from a clear advantage against Affinity decks) is a real boon to Salvaging Station, since every time one of your cogs dies you can return another to play. Besides, it’s a 6/6 monstrosity under the March. The stinky part for me is that now all of the cogs have summoning sickness, but I guess this is offset by some cute”arbitrarily large” loops with March + Station + Engineered Explosives/Chimeric Coils + Leonin Elder/Disciple of the Vault. March of the Machines seems a little overused to me, but I can definitely see the appeal of… uh, marching in this direction.
I’ve mentioned several walls that seem to seriously enhance a cog deck’s survivability: Wall of Swords, Wall of Air, Sunweb, Ageless Sentinels, Wall of Hope, and of course Steel Wall and Razorgrass Screen. I’m pretty sure, in fact, that the Wall theme could play itself out as either the primary or secondary theme to a cog deck. As the primary theme, you’re stacking up on Walls and Rolling Stones, with the recycling cogs as the deck’s card-drawing and blocker-removal. As the secondary theme, you’re setting up as invincible a defense as possible with Walls, lifegain, Tel-Jilad Stylus (to prevent decking yourself) and probably Worship. It’s definitely an idea that will never make its way into the tournament spotlight, but if you’re a Wall-lover then go for it.
My cog deck is base White, trying to get maximum use out of Auriok Salvagers and quick cogtacular weenies like Leonin Elder and Leonin Squire. It’s clear that another route to take is to make the deck base Blue instead. In this case, the deck can support Artificer’s Intuition a lot easier along with card-drawing like Thirst for Knowledge and Serum Visions. Reshape looks sexy, as do, oddly enough, Lumengrid Augur and Lumengrid Sentinel. Countermagic can easily creep its way into the deck as well. Crystal Shard helps keep your Trinket Mages tutoring, while Qumulox is back as probably the best finisher for the deck (Bringer of the Blue Dawn is nice too). Just don’t forget to include a single Spellbook to handle all of those extra cards you’re drawing!
I tried Zur’s Weirding and dropped it for stylistic reasons, much to many people’s dismay. There’s no reason you can’t easily integrate it into a decklist very similar to mine, though. Probably you want Necrogen Spellbomb to empty an opponent’s hand and emphasize the lock. Lifegain and card-drawing become highly important, as do Auriok Salvagers and Salvaging Station. I think if you really want to emphasize the feeling of a prison deck, you should include at least one Lantern of Insight for recycling purposes while you wait for your Weirdings to show up. For people who love to make opponents weep, Zur’s Weirding makes a very tempting angle for a cog deck.
Speaking of weeping, for those people who think my deck doesn’t need no stinkin’ finisher, this one’s for you. Forget big sources of damage – You are relying on nothing but board control, Trinket Mage, and Auriok Salvagers to bring you to victory. You are making this deck into a full-on control toolbox deck, which means you start adding countermagic like Condescend, Mana Leak, and Annul, then you start adding cards like Solar Tide, which has great synergy with your weenie swarm. Deny your opponent the ability to do anything but watch you play with your little one-cost trinkets. Just like with the near-Affinity builds, though, you need to be careful not drift into U/W Control, which is easy when you start thinking of including cards like Wrath of God and Eternal Dragon.
I can’t remember who suggested it, maybe it was The Zed, but someone mentioned almost in passing to me that if games are really going long, why not use Darksteel Reactor as the kill card? The idea stuck with me, and I think there is real potential for something fun here. The temptation is to make a”normal” Reactor deck – complete with Dismantle, Coretapper, and Energy Chamber – but I would rather see a deck stay true to its cog theme and concentrate on lifegain and bounce to stay alive, winning through sheer stubbornness. I think with this idea more than the others I’ve listed today, you need to include some kind of countermagic in the deck. The reason is because of the Reactor is your win condition, your opponent is going to have few cards that can handle it (Echoing Truth, Molder Slug, etc.) so you should have an answer for those few problematic cards, letting the cogs deal with the rest of their deck.
Since the deck is currently base White, with some Blue and a splash of Red, why not switch the Blue and Red emphasis? Probably the only Blue cards that stay are Trinket Mage and Aether Spellbomb (maybe two copies), and you get to add a full four Pyrite Spellbomb, Shrapnel Blast, Atog, and goodness knows what else. This obviously makes the deck more aggressive in nature, which means that including the modular theme sounds pretty good. Of course, the deck may drift towards the Atog/Shrapnel Blast interactions and away from a true cog deck. If you can avoid the drift, though, including so much damage potential is a nice idea given the deck currently plays really long, drawn-out games.
I probably didn’t make it obvious, but at several steps along this journey I thought about adding another two Salvaging Stations to the deck. It felt a little unwieldy mana-wise given the direction I was headed, but I think it is a very valid way to make a cog deck. Of course you want four Vedalken Engineers, and it would be nice if Rust Elemental and a light modular theme made an appearance to really turbo-charge the Stations. I can see adding green for things like Reap and Sow, Explosive Vegetation, etc. too. Of all the ideas listed today, this is probably the one I would most enjoy pursuing.
Are any of these ideas better than what I’ve done with my own cog deck? To me, that’s not even a valid question. Some might win more often, some might win less often. What’s fun for you to play, though, is a highly individual choice. I like the way I’ve taken my deck, but I’m not going to begrudge anyone for following their own kooky bliss.
Now, let’s proceed with the last ten games of my still-nameless deck…
Game 91: Green/Blue Avarice Totem deck
I give my opponent credit for a very creative deck. It uses protection from artifact creatures along with Avarice Totem and lots of card-drawing and counterspells. It has lots of artifact hate too, so early on I see Viridian Shaman and Glissa Sunseeker (this card in particular seems to mess up his strategy, but whatever). I’m sure he’s playing an Eternal Witness deck, so at one point I Trinket Mage out a Scrabbling Claws and he laughs at me. Anyway, we swap damage, and then start blocking each other’s creatures, though I’m usually able to get mine back via Aether Spellbomb. I use Engineered Explosives twice to kill his Avarice Totems, and the game swings dramatically in my favor when I play first Auriok Salvagers, followed a turn later by Bringer of the White Dawn. He can’t block the Bringer and kill it (and if he tried I’d just bounce it), so when I get within burn range I recycle Pyrite Spellbomb for the win. It’s comforting to win a game having never seen Leonin Elder and having mulliganed to five.
Game 92: White/Red Equip
My poor opponent has a rare-less deck using a variety of weenies like White Knight, Skyhunter Patrol, and Spikeshot Goblin to go along with burn and, I presume, equipment. He never sees any equipment, though, and some early Squires and Trinket Mages on my part allow me to clear his side of the board with a combination of Engineered Explosives, Pyrite Spellbomb, and Aether Spellbomb. If he’d had any kind of board-sweeper, especially Akroma’s Vengeance, he would have wrecked me several different turns. But I’m pretty confident it’s a low-budget deck, so I play sort of sloppily and win above twenty life thanks to a late Leonin Elder.
Game 93: Green/Blue Control
I mulligan to five going first, which means I’ve got a lot less cards than my opponent when the game starts. To make matters worse, he Mana Leaks my Leonin Squire, then drops Vedalken Shackles. I have an Auriok Salvagers in hand, but it won’t help until I can somehow get Engineered Explosives set to three. Eventually, cycling cogs like mad, I find it as he plays Solemn Simulacrum. I kill the Shackles, only to have him play Eternal Witness to get them back. I play Salvagers and recycle the Explosives in response to him stealing them with the Shackles, but I’m tapped out. The next turn he plays Rude Awakening and kills me dead. It was an interesting game against what’s obviously a polished deck. I would have liked to try again someday with a better start.
Game 94: Green/Red Beasts
DeadEternity has been watching my games and asks if I want to play against a casual Beasts deck. I say sure. Unfortunately for him, he’s a little land-shy while I draw three of my four Aether Spellbombs. The result is that my early Leonin Elder and Trinket Mage eat into his life while his Wirewood Savage and Krosan Drover keep getting bounced into his hand. He has Contested Cliffs, though, which looks like it will be a big problem for me if he ever gets going. I get the Avarice Totem/Tel-Jilad Stylus combo, but realize as I activate the Totem that I can’t steal land with it. Poop. I steal his Savage instead, and keep hitting him with my little dudes. He plays Wirewood Herald and I bounce it, then get Auriok Salvagers. After that the Spellbombs keep coming and I swarm him for the win.
Game 95: Mono-Black Relentless Rats
He plays a third-turn Phyrexian Arena while I am cycling cogs and gaining life via Leonin Elder. The Elder isn’t much offense, which means the Arena isn’t hurting him much and he’s keeping pace with me in terms of card-drawing. I get a slightly better clock with Leonin Squire, but he’s doing more damage than me because of two 3/3 Relentless Rats. I use the Avarice Totem/Tel-Jilad Stylus combo to nab a Rats and slow him down, but not for long since he uses Devour in Shadow on”my” Rats and keeps attacking. I play Auriok Salvagers, which sees another Devour, but the good news is that he’s now dangerously low on life. I cringe when he plays Loxodon Warhammer, but am able to bounce Rats via Aether Spellbomb to keep him from using it. I then play Bringer of the White Dawn, with Salvaging Station in my graveyard thanks to an earlier Thirst for Knowledge. Here, I think, he makes a big mistake.
He has six mana and plays a third Rats. If he equips one of his 4/4 Rats with the Warhammer, I would have been forced to block and kill it with my Bringer (my life is eight), gaining him life and killing my only hope of recovery. Instead he plays another Rats, making them all 5/5s and swings with his two active ones. I block one with Leonin Squire. In my next turn I get Salvaging Station with my Bringer, recycle Pyrite Spellbomb with it, ping him, play another Squire from my hand to ping him again, and during his upkeep the Arena damage kills him. Whew.
I’ll pause there and let you know what’s happening next week. Only five games left, which I’ll log Monday along with the new deck name. Tuesday I’ll talk through the budget-options of the deck given how many rares I’ve added, and then Wednesday I’ll wrap everything up and let you know where I go from here.
Three more coggish days, my friends. Three more coggish days…
Blog Elemental – Side-Dreaming
August 5, 2004
Game 84: Black/Blue Discard
This was a frustrating game because I feel like my deck just wasn’t performing like I knew it should. My opponent does some early disruption with three Ravenous Rats and two Chittering Rats, while I’m gaining life via two Leonin Elders. I play Auriok Salvagers on turn 4, but it sees Dark Banishing and after that I’m pretty much out of cards in hand. Mask of Memory comes out on an Abyssal Specter and all I can do is play Zur’s Weirding for a turn to deny him some draws, take six damage, and then banish the Weirding with my Tel-Jilad Stylus. I cycle a few cogs, but no answers come and I end the game with ten land on the table.
Game 85: Mono-Green
I’m proud of myself in the next game. I keep a hand with two Plains, no cogs, two Leonin Elder, two Leonin Squire, and an Auriok Salvagers. I’m hesitant about keeping it because of the lack of cogs, but it looks like an aggressive hand, so I decide to play aggressively. This strategy is reinforced when my opponent plays a Forest and a Cloudpost. I play weenies with abandon, he doesn’t find a third land, and by the time he Rampant Growths for a Forest, I’ve won. His comment:”Perfect. I get manascrewed against a White Weenie deck.” Heh.
Game 86: Door to Nothingness deck
He has a pretty scary Door deck because it’s pretty focused, with Fabricates and tons of five-color mana like Pentad Prism. Early I get a Leonin Elder to go along with Engineered Explosives for two, which kills his Vedalken Engineers, two Sun Droplets, a Prism, and something else I can’t remember that costs two. After that, he is trying to rebuild slowly while I get a second Elder to go along with a Trinket Mage. The Mage allows me to set up the Totem-Stylus thing to nab his third Sun Droplet while it has three counters on it. I drop Zur’s Weirding and Salvaging Station while my life is in the forties, denying him his draws while he can’t afford to deny me my recycling cogs. Just for insurance, I put the Totem-Stylus combo back on the table and he concedes.
Game 87: 5-Color Slivers
This is easily the longest and most tiring game I’ve played with this deck. ukmuggles challenges me with his”Bringer deck” in honor of me adding Bringer of the White Dawn. It turns out that it’s actually more of a Sliver deck, with three Bringers thrown, in since the deck generates five colors so reliably. There’s no way I can summarize the back-and-forthness of the game, but at one point he has Slivers of the Quick, Ward (Blue), Synapse, and Essence varieties to go along with Bringer of the Green Dawn, three Beast tokens, and Sliver Overlord. I, meanwhile, had a Leonin Elder, a Leonin Squire, and Salvaging Station. That was the low point for me, and I drop to single digits in life.
I’m not exactly sure how I climb back from that position, but I know it involved a lot of Engineered Explosives and Sunbeam Spellbomb recycling, eventually getting my second Station. Madness ensues, I get Elders two and three on the board, finally find Aether Spellbomb and Pyrite Spellbomb, and slowly start to take him apart. Just to give you an idea of the craziness, at one point I nab his Sliver Overlord with Avarice Totem, only to have him Peer Pressure it back. In the end, I’m able to cycle Pyrite Spellbomb like mad and win with my life in the eighties. I held two Zur’s Weirding most of the game, unhappily so.
Game 90: White/Green Kaldra deck
Not much to say here. He gets a Skyhunter Prowler to go along with two pieces of Kaldra (Helm and Shield). But he can never keep the Prowler on the table because of an Auriok Salvagers and a recycling Aether Spellbomb. Two Leonin Elder let my life climb into the stratosphere. There are two turns in which I really expose myself to a possible Wrath of God, but he either isn’t playing it or doesn’t draw it, and once I can bounce the Prowler and protect my Salvagers on the same turn, my two 1/1s and my 2/4 go all the way.
Okay. Zur’s Weirding? I don’t like it. It’s pretty effective in the deck, but drawing it stresses me out, because it’s a timing card. Even worse, I seem to draw it when I’m low on life, my opponent has a lot of life, or I’m otherwise on the defensive. It was a cool experiment and I still think there’s something there, but I’m not in the mood to include it in my deck, nor do I feel like it fits my style. [Just for the record, Jay just said drawing a card in his casual deck stresses him out. – Knut, tracking this stuff]
OUT: 2 Zur’s Weirding
IN: 2 Thirst for Knowledge
Thirst for Knowledge is my cop-out filler card. It doesn’t hurt the strategy I’ve already set up, but it doesn’t do anything different or cool either. I thought about trying Lantern of Insight or Chimeric Coils, but the former is again something I won’t like stylistically, and the latter is something I’d rather use with Vedalken Engineers still in the deck. I figure that Thirst will never be a bad draw, and I’ll usually get the card back I discard.
4 Leonin Elder
4 Leonin Squire
4 Trinket Mage
4 Auriok Salvagers
2 Bringer of the White Dawn
4 Aether Spellbomb
4 Chromatic Sphere
2 Thirst for Knowledge
2 Salvaging Station
1 Avarice Totem
1 Conjurer’s Bauble
1 Pyrite Spellbomb
1 Scrabbling Claws
1 Sunbeam Spellbomb
1 Tel-Jilad Stylus
1 Engineered Explosives
4 Ancient Den
4 Seat of the Synod
2 Grand Coliseum
2 Great Furnace
1 Mirrodin’s Core
Now, for all of you Friday Night Magic folks…
I think I’ve been pretty clear all along in this experiment that I never intended the deck to be played in tournaments. That said, several people have been inspired to bring either my version or their own cog deck to FNM or even Pro Tour Qualifiers. Crazy. Even crazier, some of the results have been encouraging, such as Shadowcast’s recent fifth-place finish (out of twenty-four) with version 2.4, while having no experience playing the deck.
I’m not even going to try and tell you what you would have to change about the deck to turn it into something worthy of a tournament. I still think of what I’ve done here as a casual deck, something I enjoy playing on MTGO in idle time. Enough people have e-mailed me asking my thoughts concerning a sideboard, though, that it feels unavoidable to chime in on the topic.
What I’m about to say is theory-only, and I won’t go into the exhaustive detail with it as I have with the rest of the deck. Still, here are my thoughts based on the games I’ve played and what little I know of the current Standard metagame. If I were showing up to a random FNM tournament using the current version, I would probably bring this sideboard:
4 Second Sunrise
4 Viridian Shaman
2 Tree of Tales
2 Scrabbling Claws
2 Sunbeam Spellbomb
1 Engineered Explosives
Why? Well, I think about sideboards along two lines: First, you need to be able to add cards that shore up weaknesses against certain matchups. Second, you need to be able to get rid of the cards that don’t help you against those same matchups.
I actually developed a detailed sideboard plan against the major decks in Standard, but realized that’s probably overkill for something I’m never going to try. Suffice it to say, the Second Sunrise comes in against board-sweeping effects like Akroma’s Vengeance, the Shamans/Trees come in against Affinity and other artifact-heavy decks, as well as any deck with Damping Matrix, the Claws help against graveyard recursion of any kind like Eternal Witness and Patriarch’s Bidding, the Sunbeams put you out of burn range against Red decks, and Engineered Explosives help against creature swarms. Against land-destruction you even have some additional land to add in a pinch.
That’s what I would do. Then again, I wouldn’t bring this deck to a tournament. If you do and win a bunch of games, though, be sure to tell me about it.